15 February 2018

Poetry Thursday - an astronomy poem by Walt Whitman

When I heard the learn'd astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer, 
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me, 
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them, 
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room, 
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, 
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself, 
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, 
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

- Walt Whitman

Found via the discussions in the excellent online astronomy course "In the night sky: Orion", which has been a source of insight and of astonishing information - did you know that there are 170 billion galaxies (or maybe a trillion) - each containing millions or billions of stars, and their moons and planets, incomprehensibly many; some are millions of light years away, incomprehensibly far.  From the dust between them, some flung out by stellar collisions in the 13.7 or 13.8 billion years of the universe's existence and the rest a remnant of the Big Bang, more stars continue to be made as the dust particles, tiny as they are, are attracted to each other by gravity.

Other great sources highlighted by participants are this tool to see the Milky Way in light of different wave lengths - http://www.chromoscope.net/ - and a series of videos from the Hubble Telescope: the one on the Horsehead Nebula is so good - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LL5L4VFgkdo, and the 3D technique explained in that video has been applied to the Orion Nebula -
Of course in the still, you miss the 3D effect - have a look at the video, it's spectacular!

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